Denis Herron was five when his father bought him goalie gear and made him a promise: you’re going to be good. This was 1957, when nobody was wearing a mask, not even Jacques Plante. Herron’s brother and his dad did what you do when you’ve got a padded-up goalie standing before you in the net: they shot pucks at him. “The second day they knocked out my eight front teeth,” Herron later recalled. “I didn’t want to play any more, but my dad said, I just paid all this money for equipment, you can’t stop now. They were just baby teeth, and new ones grew in. But I lost them too playing hockey. Masks came too late to save them.”
Born in Chambly, in Quebec, in 1952 on a Wednesday of this very date, Herron turns 68 today. He made his NHL debut in 1972 at the age of 20 when he turned out for Pittsburgh. He was masked by then, though not all the Penguin goalers were that year: along with Jim Rutherford and Cam Newton, Herron shared the net that year with Andy Brown, the last of the league’s maskless men.
Herron’s mask that year wasn’t the one depicted here, in a rendering by artist Michael Cutler. While he seems to sported several in those early Pennsylvanian years, the one that he seems to have favoured featured … well, possibly was the design he wore high on his forehead meant to suggest the profile of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena? One New York sportswriter seems to have taken it for “a yarmulke-like cap.”
It was when he was traded to the Kansas City Scouts in 1975 that the maskmaker Greg Harrison painted the chevrons seen above on Herron’s mask. He kept them when, after two seasons, he returned to Pittsburgh. Another trade took him to Montreal, where he kept the Canadiens’ net for three seasons wearing a red-and-blue variation on the chevron’d mask. In 1980-81, he shared a Vézina Trophy with Montreal teammates Michel Larocque and Richard Sevigny. He and Rick Wamsley won a Jennings Trophy the following season for allowing the fewest goals against. Denis Herron played his final four NHL seasons back in Pittsburgh before retiring in 1986.
(Top image from Great Hockey Masks, Michael Cutler’s 1983 collection of hockey-mask art)